Emily Dickinson & Maya Angelou Essay


Q. Analyse the presentation of human suffering in the poetry of Maya Angelou & Emily Dickinson.


Many of Emily Dickinson’s poems touch on topics dealing with loss and human suffering. While loss and suffering is generally considered a sad or unfortunate thing, Dickinson uses this theme to explain and promote the positive aspects of absence. Throughout many of her poems, one can see clearly that see is an advocate of respecting and accepting the state of being without. Dickinson implies that through these types of losses, one can gain a richer and stronger appreciation for both success and belongings. Poems 2 and 1036 are two that capture the extent of Dickinson’s feelings on loss. By understanding and comparing these two works, it is easy to recognise that Dickinson believes that possessing neither material possessions nor the joy of success are the real keys to happiness.


Poem 2 focuses on a battle that could be considered either literal in the sense of war, or more symbolic as it could act as the anthem for any type of loss or failure. Lines 1 and 2 of the poem explain that success or winning is most valued by those who never prevail. Dickinson is saying that loss creates the strongest appreciation for a win. The lines 3 and 4 state:


To comprehend a nectar


Requires sorest need.


This implies that necessity is the only way in which to understand what you want. Next, in the second stanza, Dickinson uses words that denote an actual battle has taken place by saying:


Not one of all the purple host


Who took the flag today


Can tell the definition


So clear of Victory


She is suggesting that winners cannot value their victory. The final stanza emphasizes that fact the defeated group understands the meaning of victory when she says that:



The distant strains of triumph


Burst agonized and clear.


Dickinson describes the dying soldiers comprehending the meaning of winning the battle in a way that the victors never will. The reason that the winners can’t understand the significance of their victory is that they did not taste defeat. The loss of a battle demonstrates to the unsuccessful how far they are from feeling the exuberation of success. Poem 2, as in line with Dickinson’s theme of human suffering, suggests that being in a losing state, at least sometimes, is better than winning all the time. The deflated feeling of being unsuccessful increases the state of appreciation one has for winning.


In poem 1036, Dickinson remains consistent in her theme of loss but takes an approach that is more appropriate for everyday life. She claims that one is happier and more contented when they are in a state of want. To Dickinson, it is the moment before one receives what one wants that are the most fulfilling. The anticipation of obtaining the objects of desire, such as victory in poem 2, creates an appreciation for the object that is lost upon possession. In the first stanza of 1036, Dickinson states that:


Satisfaction – is the agent


Of Satiety –


Want – a quiet Commissary


For Infinity


She implies here that being excessively full is a short-lived feeling. This satisfaction inhibits one’s motivation to strive for more. To want, as suggested in lines 3 and 4, will be one’s companion forever because we will always tend to want either something else or more the same. The second stanza contains Dickinson’s opinion on the fulfilment of human desire. She says that:


Immortality contended

Were Anomaly
In other words, to be fully satisfied would be an abnormal and unnatural state for human beings. This emphasizes her point that the anticipation of being satisfied creates the most joy. Dickinson takes note of the fact that humans are rarely completely satisfied but that this state of desire and necessity is a positive thing. Not only does it help one to appreciate gaining what they do not have, but it also creates a motivation that keeps one striving for higher goals. If we all had everything we wanted, what would keep us going?


“I am human,” Angelou said, “and nothing can be alien to me.”





Maya Angelou just may be the most “human” person in the world. Indeed, with all of the struggles she went through in